Max Verstappen wins pole over Lewis Hamilton in U.S. Grand Prix qualifying thriller

F1 COTA pole Verstappen
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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AUSTIN, Texas — Formula One’s dramatic title race took another turn when Max Verstappen edged title rival Lewis Hamilton for the F1 pole at COTA, where the seven-time champion Hamilton has dominated.

Hamilton has won the U.S. Grand Prix five times at Circuit of The Americas, and the Mercedes team was supposed to have the edge over Red Bull at this event.

But it was Verstappen, the points leader, and fan favorite Sergio Perez who dominated qualifying and the Red Bulls flanked Hamilton headed into Sunday’s race.

Verstappen won the pole at the buzzer by 0.209 seconds.

It was a dramatic battle for pole in their season-long tussle for the championship, and set up a tense start to Sunday’s race when Verstappen and Hamilton will sprint to the first uphill turn.

Given their history of race-changing collisions already this season – they’ve wrecked twice during a race and on Friday in practice Verstappen flipped his middle finger and called Hamilton a `stupid idiot’ – the fight for the lead should be fierce.

Since the track opened in 2012, the winner has come from the front row every time.

Valtteri Bottas, in the other Mercedes, couldn’t wedge ahead of Perez and qualified fourth.

The race was canceled last year by the COVID-10 pandemic, and enthusiastic crowds have turned out for Formula One in its return.

Race organizers expected 120,000 fans for Saturday qualifying, and a sold-out 140,00 for Sunday’s race. That crowd would qualify as one as one of the largest for a sporting event since the start of the pandemic. It likely will be the most well-attended motorsports event in America this year (topping the Indy 500, which was held in front of a limited capacity crowd).

The crowd was loudest for Perez, who is from Guadalajara, Mexico and has called the U.S. Grand Prix a second “home” race for him outside the Mexican Grand Prix in two weeks.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship
IMSA
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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”